Health Insurance

Best Health Insurance for Expats, Relocated Foreigners or Snowbirds in Panama

The most-asked questions from people relocating overseas are regarding health care and medical insurance coverage, and rightfully so. Whether you are moving as a young family, for a business transfer, for retirement, or any other scenario, medical care should be your first concern.

Snowbirds have a bit of an advantage, as they can retain their “home” coverage if only out of that country for a maximum of six months. However, they still need health care in their sometimes-home.

Regular health care in Panama such as doctor visits, specialist consultations, dental, chiropractic, and others are reasonably priced. If you are resident under the excellent pensionado program, the additional discounts of these and of medications allow you to cover these expenses out of pocket.

Most medications are available over the counter, except antibiotics or those containing narcotics. Doctors are also hesitant to supply long-term amounts of pain killers such as morphine. They will only give you enough for a maximum of 14 days. They explain that “pain is in your mind.” Their concern is for your true health. Be aware that certain types of drugs such as anti-nausea meds and anti-depressants are named differently in Panama than in North America. You’ll have to do some research to find an equivalent or use the generic name.

However, for emergency services accidents, and serious illnesses, it is essential to have some form of coverage. There are two types of medical insurance—local and international. International coverage offers a wider network of doctors, hospitals, and higher coverage amounts anywhere in the world, including your home country if you choose to include it in your coverage; exclude it to save money if you don’t go back regularly. Whether you are a U.S. citizen or a citizen of another country traveling to the States, it will be significantly less expensive to purchase travel insurance for the duration of your stay.

If you’re thinking of going international, you should consult a professional insurance broker. They take all your information and help you decide which plan or company best fits your needs. Contact our preferred broker here. Several LIOS staff have used this brokerage to find a plan that suits their expat and travel needs affordably. The service is excellent and highly personalized.

Local medical insurance plans supply coverage only in Panama. This is a good option for those who, like snowbirds, have coverage “back home.”

Many insurers will sell full medical coverage. If you can afford the premiums, the plans offered are comprehensive and provide good coverage. However, keep in mind that these carriers rarely offer coverage of pre-conditions, and there is almost always an age limit.

Another local option is a hospital plan. Several hospitals and clinics offer programs that allow for discounts on all their medical procedures, medications, and more. Hospital Santa Fe in Panama City has such a plan, as well as several hospitals in David, Chiriquí.

If you’re in Western Panama, Hospital Cooperativo in David is and is a great alternative to full outside medical coverage. It gives you access to excellent medical care from well-trained doctors in a well-maintained hospital. It’s a cooperative organization that charges low prices and operates on a non-profit basis. At year’s end, any gains are used for developing and improving the hospital and its services.

Services include general medicine, internal medicine, emergency room, pediatric medicine, gynecology, cardiology, radiology, orthopedics, and more. A sample of applicable discounts available for group members are:

  • Emergency room 50%
  • Operating room 30%
  • Hospital rooms 30%
  • Injections 30%
  • Specialist consults 20%
  • Lab tests 30%
  • Ultrasound 20%
  • X-rays 20%

Considering these prices are already incredibly low, the discounts make them extremely affordable. For example, the cost to use the emergency room service is US$7.50, and the daily cost for a hospital room is between US$42 and US$49. Yearly membership fees at this time are a mere US$120 per person. There is no waiting period, there are no pre-existing condition restrictions, and there are no age limits.

Another option to consider, especially for those of us who do not speak Spanish fluently, are the new all-encompassing “help” programs such as Keep It Simple Panama in David and Rodny Direct (RD) in Boquete. These companies’ assist expats in emergency situations or those simply needing support to cut through the red tape. They are also affiliated with different hospitals and offer discounts similar to Hospital Cooperativo.

If you sign up with RD (for US$80 per year for the entire family, as well as out of country visitors), a doctor or other will be on call 24/7 to assist you in any way he can. Most of Panama doesn’t use street addresses, making it difficult to explain where you need an ambulance to go. Members receive a number to apply to your entry gate or the outside of your home that will enable him to give exact directions to ambulance drivers, police, or firemen.

Medical emergency assistance is just one of the areas where this service is essential.

In a car accident on the highway and need help talking to the police, the other driver, or the insurance agent but you don’t know Spanish? Call the RD number and someone will immediately sort it out, in person if they are in the vicinity or by phone.

Have a vehicle breakdown on the Pan-American Highway with no facilities in sight? Call RD for assistance, whether it be a tow truck, service station, or transportation home.

This is merely a sampling of the invaluable help these organizations provide. The more vital information you put into your profile, the better they can assist you.

There are countless advantages with Panamanian health care:

  • No long waiting lists for procedures from MRIs to hip replacements, as is the case in Canada and the States.
  • Specialists are readily accessible and are often available the same day the injury/illness occurs.
  • Most hospitals have their own on-site pharmacies, observe pensionado or in-house discounts, and prescribe by the pill rather than requiring the purchase of a full month supply.
  • Many doctors make themselves personally available by cell phone when necessary.
  • Every town and city has sufficient clinics and hospitals to serve the population, and many are open extended hours for emergencies.
  • Rest assured that whichever plan or form of coverage you choose, your medical needs will be met in Panama.

Top 5 Hospitals for Expats in Panama

If you are planning on making a move down to the lush tropics of Panama, why not take a moment to learn a little something about the Panama health care system and where to find hospitals that will offer quality and expat friendly care.

Luckily, you won’t have to look far. Equipped with two branches of health care, public and private, Panama is recognized for its world-class institutions and qualified medical professionals. But in a country with such a strong health care system, where should you go to find the best possible care?

5. Hospital Santa Fe

Last on the list is the Hospital Santa Fe.

Nestled in the center of Panama City and located mere minutes from the Panama Canal, the Hospital Santa Fe concentrates on creating individual health care plans that are patient specific. Founded in 1984, Hospital Santa Fe uses the latest technology, state-of-the-art equipment, and many English speaking, American-trained doctors to treat their patients. Hospital Santa Fe is also on-board with the new wave of medical tourism and offers many health tourism packages that claim to provide the same quality care as American hospitals at a more affordable rate.

So before you pack your suitcase and whisk off to Panama, be sure to look into the local health care system and the available hospitals, so that when the time comes, you can make an educated and confident decision.

4. Hospital Nacional

If you visit Hospital Nacional, located in the Bella Vista area of Panama City, you can expect to receive quality care. This hospital is staffed with over 100 specialists and has an impressive nurse to patient ratio (one nurse per every ten patients). This facility also offers a diverse range of patient services like:

  • A clinical laboratory.
  • A pathology laboratory.
  • A genetics center.
  • An emergency room
  • And an intensive care unit.

Hospital Nacional is also welcoming to out-of-towners for they even accept international health care plans.

3. Hospital Chiriqui

Hospital Chiriqui, located in the city of David (near the Costa Rica border), is an institution with a reputation for providing exceptional medical care for over twenty years now.

The Hospital Chiriqui is a private hospital staffed with medical professionals that specialize in anesthesiology, cardiology, reconstructive surgery, dermatology, and radiology (to name a few). In order to keep providing quality patient care, the Hospital Chiriqui is currently developing a clinic in the small town of Boquete, Chiriqui that will provide services like ambulance, pharmacy and primary health care to patients, twenty-four hours a day.

2. Paitilla Hospital (Centro Médico Paitilla)

Next on the list is Paitilla Hospital. Located in Punta Paitilla, this facility is one of the oldest private hospitals in Panama and is a great choice for expats since most of the staff speak English.  This is due to the fact that many of the doctors completed residencies in the United States and Europe before settling in at Paitilla Hospital.

While best known for its oncology unit, Paitilla Hospital is staffed with medical professionals that specialize in many different branches of medicine. Some of their  departments include:

  • Radiology and imaging.
  • Laboratory and anatomic pathology.
  • Cancer center.
  • Critical care unit for newborns and adults, and
  • Cardiac catheterization unit

1. Hospital Punta Pacifica

First on the list is Hospital Punta Pacifica. A full-service private hospital praised for its trained physicians and immaculate facilities, Punta Pacifica is not only the only John Hopkins affiliated hospital in Panama but in Central America as well.

Hospital Punta Pacifica employs over 350 medical specialists, and through the use of continuing education programs, these specialists are constantly updated to keep their knowledge current. This hospital can be found in Punta Pacifica, and although it is one of the more expensive institutions in Panama, inside you can expect to receive first-rate care at the hand of qualified professionals.

Panama Wave Sessions – Expat Health Insurance

Bob discusses health insurance for expatriates.

Health Care Considerations for Expats Moving to Panama

  • Health care expenses in Panama are significantly lower than they are in the U.S. Because of this, many expats believe they can get by without an insurance plan and pay out-of-pocket for their health care. This may be true for the short-term, but major procedures could be more than you can afford.
  • While the majority of Panama’s hospitals and clinics are located in densely populated cities, the country itself is quite small, so you’re likely only a couple of hours from qualified care.
  • Not only is Panama known for its quality health care, but many doctors in private institutions are bilingual (speaking Spanish and English), making it easier for expats to navigate the communication barrier.
  • Public hospitals and clinics can be very crowded due to shortages in hospital personnel. Unless you have a plan that allows you to visit private health care facilities, expect long wait times (even if you have an appointment).

What Expats Need to Know About Health Insurance in Panama

While the Central American nation has always been known for its travel industry, many do not know that Panama offers some of the best health care services in the region. Specifically, in Panama City, there are four major hospitals all renowned for their service and care. This access to quality health care is yet another reason why expats flock to Panama.

Expats are not required to have health insurance in Panama, which means you can either pay out of pocket for all services or invest in a private health insurance plan before they leave for Panama. While Panama has been working for the past few years to implement a universal health care system for citizens and permanent residents, the coverage is very basic (if you are even eligible to enroll), so private insurance maybe your best option.

Local insurance plans can provide short-term cost savings, but they may come with lower maximum limits and typically only offer coverage inside of Panama. For the true global traveler, or someone looking for additional worldwide coverage when traveling away from home, including emergency evacuation coverage or a higher maximum limit, international health insurance is the best option. Depending on the provider network, an international health insurance plan may also give you access to some of the top facilities in Panama.

For many expats, Panama offers a wonderful year-round climate and a very good standard of health care. Even so, choosing the right health insurance for you and your family is essential, so here are some tips to help with your decision.

English-speaking Insurance Broker in Panama, Gonzalo de la Guardia

Get to know Gonzalo’s 40 years of experience in insurance and the 100 years of his family’s legacy in insurance in Panama. The brokerage firm can tell you about all kinds of insurance in Panama: health insurance for older, retired or with preexisting conditions, insurance for your business partner, disability insurance, life insurance and more.

Panama Health Insurance Cost for Expats

If you want to get private health insurance in Panama, you might pay from US$70 – $200 per month. The cost would depend on your health and your age but would cover almost everything. For example, I have health insurance for me and my kids that cover 90% of everything and I pay $75 per month.  (As a point of reference, I’m 35 years old.)

Out of my monthly income, I am forced to pay Social Security, so, for example, I can have heart surgery in a state hospital under Social Security, but still, use private doctors.  As a result, I use the state’s resources at the hospital, which is extremely good, but I can ask for a private doctor and use my private health insurance.  In this way, I can manage in a very, very good way.

Recently, I had a really bad accident in a foreign country, in which I broke and smashed my leg.  In Costa Rica, the cost of the surgery would have been around $150,000.  However, I took a plane directly to the hospital in Panama, where the total cost was $17,000, including the hospital and a stay in the hospital for a couple of weeks. With my Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurance, I ended up paying around $1,000, and this was for a suite in the hospital, where I had the best doctors we have here in Panama.  These types of experiences are some of the reasons why people from other countries come down to Panama to get medical surgeries.

The public Social Security system is available to expats. If you have an income, you have to pay a very small percentage of your income into the Social Security system. What that does is to ensure that you will always have medical attention, no matter where are you, what you are, or what country you come from.  If you’re a resident, you are able to use the medical system. You’re in the system. You’ll be taken care of.

Many ways to have Health Insurance in Panama

Health insurance is available in Panama in a variety of ways.  Some hospitals and clinics offer private insurance programs (typically good at their facilities only) that have a monthly premium (based on your age and current health condition) and covers a variety of examinations, tests, and procedures.  These are not true insurance policies but are essentially discount programs where you can receive up to 50% to 60% off your medical services at that particular hospital or clinic.  Some local hospitals have reciprocal agreements with other hospitals in Panama but you need to make sure you understand the limitations of the program.

More traditional medical plans through major insurance companies like Blue Shield, Cigna and others are available in Panama and will cover most medical costs.  The premiums are based on your age, current medical condition and the highest deductible you feel comfortable using.  Most of these plans either exclude medical services in the United States or have much higher deductibles if you use your coverage in the US (where medical costs are some of the highest in the world).  Many of these policies require that you spend a minimum amount of time out of the US (usually 6 months) to be eligible for coverage.

The costs of basic medical services in Panama are fairly reasonable with doctor’s visits usually costing anywhere between $ 30 and $ 50 depending on the doctor (for example, specialists generally charge US$ 40 per visit while general practitioners usually only charge $ 30).  So for everyday pain and ailments, paying cash for a doctor’s visit is generally the way to go.

Medical insurance is available in Panama but you need to shop carefully, understand the benefits and coverage limitations clearly and know what you’re buying before you make your decision.

Just one example is Santa Fe Hospital.  They have a special program for people over 60 or 65 that runs US$ 50 or US$ 60 a month.  Santa Fe Hospital is not in the upper tier of hospitals in Panama, but they have everything you need.